Is feasting on pasta the next big diet craze? Probably not. But a new study may be helping to fix pasta’s bad reputation in the healthy eating world.
Diet and nutrition researchers in Italy say while the nation's most famous carbohydrate has long gotten a bad rap for blowing out waistlines, eating pasta isn’t as bad as the low-carb diet craze tells you.
Research published in July in the journal Nutrition and Diabetes suggests eating pasta in controlled amounts is associated with a healthy lifestyle.
The study, conducted by the Neuromed Institute of Pozzilli, found that eating pasta in moderation is linked to a lower body-mass index, or BMI. The study recommended 10 per cent of your daily calories should come from pasta.
"By analyzing anthropometric data of the participants and their eating habits we have seen that consumption of pasta, contrary to what many think, is not associated with an increase in body weight," researcher George Pounis said in a news release.
Licia Iacoviello, who heads Neuromed's Laboratory of Molecular and Nutritional Epidemiology, said pasta was often considered a no no for when you want to lose weight, with some people banning it from their diets completely.
“In light of this research, we can say that this is not a correct attitude. We're talking about a fundamental component of Italian Mediterranean tradition, and there is no reason to do without it. The message emerging from this study ... is that the Mediterranean diet, consumed in moderation and respecting the variety of all its elements, is good to your health.”
Researchers came to this conclusion after carrying two surveys of around 25,000 subjects, one group in Molise in southern Italy and the other from all Italian regions.
Information was collected on the subjects’ body measurements and nutrition patterns, and researchers said the study was the first that looked at the role of pasta in controlling a person’s weight on a traditional Mediterranean diet.
The catch to this study, however, is that it was carried out in the context of the Mediterranean diet (which features mainstays like olive oil, fish and vegetables), which is already thought to be perhaps the world’s healthiest diet.
“Pasta is back”
Over the years pasta has fallen from grace among some quarters, villainized by the Atkins and paleo diets and accused of being among the carbohydrates fuelling the obesity epidemic.
However, according to Google's 2016 Food Trends Report, pasta recipes for dishes from Bolognaise and mac ‘n’ cheese bites to spaghetti pie are trending, so much so that Google declared “pasta is back”.
The report said that after four years of little interest in searching for pasta, people are now googling the term more frequently. Searches are up for everything from recipes to the differences between pasta types and shapes.
As the report notes:
“It’s time for marketers to refocus their attention on pasta. There’s growing interest for a variety of pasta recipes, and consumers are seeking new ideas for their weekend eating adventures.”
The health benefits of pasta
Pasta is a good foundation for making satisfying and healthy meals. It is generally eaten with nutrient-dense food partners such as poultry, lean meats and fish, fiber-filled vegetables and beans, antioxidant-rich tomato sauce and protein-packed cheeses.
It’s also low in sodium, cholesterol-free and has a low Glycemic Index. Additionally, whole wheat pasta can provide up to 25 per cent of your daily fiber needs in every one cup portion.
Pasta contains lots of carbs, yes, but carbs are good for fuelling energy. Unlike simple sugars that offer a quick and fleeting boost of energy, pasta helps sustain energy.
If you love pasta but want to keep your waistline in check, experts advise going for a whole grain pasta instead of the conventional white wheat flour pasta - anything whole grain is richer nutritionally than highly processed white flour.
Feeling inspired? Below is one healthy and easy pasta recipe for you to try out.
Broccoli-Walnut Pesto with Pasta (recipe and photo courtesy of Food Network Kitchen).
- 1/3 cup walnut halves
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- 1 1/2 cups chopped raw broccoli florets and tender stems (about 4 ounces)
- 1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves, plus a few sprigs, for garnish
- 1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
- Kosher salt
- Juice of 1/2 small lemon (1 tablespoon)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Romano or grana padano cheese
- 10 ounces whole wheat or tri-color fusilli
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the nuts out on a small baking pan and toast lightly, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Pulse together 1/4 cup of the walnuts and the garlic in a food processor; add the broccoli, basil, broth, nutmeg, red pepper flakes if using, 3/4 teaspoon salt and the lemon juice, and pulse until just combined. Slowly drizzle in the oil through the feed tube with the processor running and puree until a slightly chunky sauce forms, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add 2 tablespoons of the cheese and pulse until incorporated.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.
Toss the pasta with the pesto in the dry pot or a mixing bowl, along with some of the reserved cooking liquid. Add the remaining cooking liquid if needed and additional salt to taste.
Transfer the pasta to individual bowls and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon cheese. Chop the remaining walnuts and scatter on top. Garnish with basil leaves and serve.
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